Archives for May2013

How to pass the APMP exam? Tips and Hints by Mike Warren of Provek


If you are reading this article you probably know what the APMP exam is. You may have also found out that it is a tough exam to pass. We would agree with that last statement but also add that with the right preparation you can pass it! We at Provek Ltd have extensive experience of supporting a wide range of candidates through the process of becoming APMP accredited and we want to share this experience with you here.

There are two key things required in passing any exam, knowledge of the subject being tested and good exam technique. The knowledge element is down to you – there is no short cut to the process of learning the subject matter. We would of course like you to learn from ourselves at Provek either in a classroom setting or online via The PM Channel.

This article is going to concentrate on exam technique, top tips and also to show you some examples of what constitutes a good answer. We will also cover how to plan for the exam itself. It goes without saying that all of this is available free on with every Provek training product.

Choose your questions wisely and watch the clock!

Three hours might in some circumstances seem a long time but that will not be your experience in the APMP exam! Your chances of passing are greatly diminished if you run out of time and are not able to complete all questions so it is important to have a time plan (just like a real project in fact!). Out of the 52 Body of Knowledge topics, 37 are covered in the APMP syllabus out of which any 16 are tested in the exam. You are have to answer any 10 questions out of the 16 available. The pass mark is 55%.

Selecting the right questions

When you open the paper in the exam room it is important that you can quickly identify all 10 questions that you intend to answer. We suggest that this process begins during your preparation as you identify the topics that you are familiar with from your project experience and the ones you are not so comfortable with. That does not mean you should discount unfamiliar topics but there will be some that you definitely will not attempt.

We suggest that you prioritise the topics into ‘confidence’ groupings such as:

Tick Topics that I hope will come up and will definitely answer

Circle Topics that I need to be prepared for and will answer once I have exhausted my ‘best’ topics


Cross Topics that I will not attempt


On opening the paper, read the questions quickly and allocate them your priority mark (see above).

We suggest that you start with your ‘best’ and work down accordingly. The main thing is to stick to your plan unless you have a very good reason for not doing so such as having misread a question.

Time keeping

You have 180 minutes to complete 10 questions. It is suggested that you send approximately 15 mins per question leaving you 15 minutes at the start to read and plan and 15 minutes at the end to check through and add any last minute additions. Each question is worth 50 marks and some will consist of multiple parts. You will be told the number of marks that are available for each part. As a rough guide you should allow 3 minutes per 10 marks although some parts will require more time that others.

It is worth spending the time upfront to read and plan as you want to be sure that you understand the questions being asked and make your choices accordingly. One common area where candidates go wrong is not actually answering the question that is asked so we want you to avoid this mistake by being sure that you understand what it is the examiner is testing.

One you have decided to start a question it is worth allocating time to each point that you will be asked to make. For example, many of the questions ask you to explain or describe 5 things about a subject. This means that you should spend approximately 3 minutes per point. This should not be a rigid rule but a good guide. If you spend 7 minutes of your first point you only have 8 more minutes to cover 4 more points!

If you go wrong in a question, just cross out the error and carry on as starting again will cost you valuable time. This is particularly true when it comes to diagrams and charts. This author remembers in his APMP exam getting scale wrong to a Gantt chart and ended up by using 3 A4 answer sheets side by side! After a moment of quiet panic, he labeled up the sheets so they could be reassembled by the marker and hoped for the best. In his feedback he noted that he got 100% for that question! It was not neat but it was accurate!

In order to assist you we have included below a template that you can use or adapt for your exam. Ask permission to use it from the invigilator and spend the first part of the exam completing it. You can then use it as a guide and a check on time. We give these out to our exam delegates and they have always been approved for use by the invigilator, but do check first.




Let’s start off by stating the obvious, you must answer the question that is asked and not a question you would like it to be! You must also avoid writing down everything you can remember learning about the subject. The exam is a simple transaction where the examiner is trying to find our whether you understand a particular aspect of a subject and you in turn have to provide evidence of your understanding. The question will be specific and therefore a general answer will not give sufficient evidence and get you the marks that you require.

This author uses a simple technique to test an answer. He imagines a conversation in which a senior person in his organisation asks him the question that has been set in the exam. He then answers the question by reading out the answer the candidate has submitted. The response of the senior person should be a nod followed by the words, ‘Oh yes, I see exactly what you mean’ rather than a confused stare! Try out this simple reality check – it really does work!

Your answers also need to be jargon and acronym free. Do not assume the marker knows that you know! Again, this author imagines the above conversation but this time with someone who does not understand project management. Again, they should understand what you are saying. Do not hide your meaning behind words such as ‘management’ or ‘strategy’ as these can obscure the plain point you are attempting to make. What, for example does ‘managing time’ mean? If you are trying to say that ‘the project manager must monitor actual progress against planned progress taking action when appropriate’ then say that.

What you write down is the only way the marker can test your understanding so make your words count.


We strongly recommend that you lay out the structure of your answer before you actually write the words. The structure should match exactly the structure of the question. For example, if the question asked you to ‘explain five responsibilities of a project manager’ we would write down the numbers one to five with approximately one third of a page gap between them (more if there is to be a diagram).

You do not need to write down the question (which will waste time) only the question number in the correct place at the top of the APM supplied answer sheet. Once you have done this write against each number a heading which sumarises the point you are about to make. If you do this for every question and can only make two or three points then it is early warning that you may have started the wrong question allowing you time to choose another. Once you have your headings you can start answering knowing that the headings will prompt you and prevent you from straying into another point.

This clear structure will be good for you as well as the marker who will have a much easier job than if your answer is one long unstructured mini essay! So taking the sample question about the project manager your skeleton answer might look like this (without the gaps):

  1. Create and maintain the Project Management Plan (PMP)
  2. Motivate the team
  3. Monitor and report on progress
  4.  Manage and escalate issues and risks
  5.  Manage the stakeholders

Answering the different types of questions

The APMP gives the following guidance:

Table 2

Please take note of key words in each question:

It is important to note that this is not intended to limit you but guide you. If you say more than the minimum you will not lose marks (although too much more will impact your time) but you will lose marks if your answer is too brief and ‘lightweight’.

For some there is confusion between ‘describe’ and ‘explain’ to which we would say that ‘describe’ is saying ‘what’ something is whereas ‘explain’ is ‘what’ something is and ‘why’ it is relevant. This is an important distinction as you are only likely to get 50% of the marks for saying ‘what’ something is when you are asked to ‘explain’ it.



Question: State two responses that might be appropriate to top priority risks (threats or opportunities). (10 marks)

Good sample answer:

  1. Reduce/mitigate: This is an action is taken to lower the probability and/or the impact of a risk event or set of events leading to a reduction in the overall risk severity to an acceptable level.
  2. Transfer: This is where the impact of a risk (usually financial) is formally taken on by/transferred to a 3rd party either by contractual means or insurance.


Question: Describe two different pieces of HSE legislation. (20 marks)

Good sample answer:

  1.  Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. It is designed to prevent or reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances by risk assessment, control of exposure, health surveillance and incident planning.
  2. The Manual Handling Operations Regulations set specific legal requirements to ensure that employees undertaking manual handling operations at work avoid the risk of injury. They specify all factors employers must consider if they employ manual workers. These include whether manual tasks involve awkward movements, moving loads over long distances, holding goods that are difficult to grasp and the capabilities of the worker.


Question: Explain two items that must be documented and/or reported on a project in order to implement budget and cost control (20 marks)

Good sample answer:

  1. The overall project budget. This will be documented in the business case and the project management plan and is the organisation’s expectation of the total project cost and how the spend will be profiled over the life of the project. The budget, incorporating contingencies, forms the baseline for the project and must be reported on regularly throughout the lifecycle. This is vital as it provides the organisation with the confidence that the project will come in on budget or be the basis for an early warning that is will not meet expectations.
  2. Actual costs must be documented and reported on so that they can be compared the planned costs both at project and stage level. From this comparison variances can be calculated to show what has actually happened against what was expected. This will allow trends to be understood and expected outcome to be calculated with appropriate action taken when necessary.

List and describe…

You must make it clear to the marker what your ‘List’ is. You can make your ‘List’ part of your ‘Describe’ but it must form a clear heading with a full stop after it to stop it becoming part of the sentence that will follow it.


Describe vs. Explain

When answering an ‘explain’ question it may be hard to think of ‘why’ something is relevant or important. One way to overcome this is to ask yourself ‘what happens if this is NOT done?’ You will immediately see why it is important by looking at the negative. You can of course use the negative in you answer by saying something like, ‘if this were not done X,Y and Z will happen’.

Questions on plans

If you are answering a question regarding the purpose or use of a plan it is helpful to remember that all plans document ‘what’ is to be done, ‘how’ it will be done (processes, techniques etc.), ‘when’ something will be done and ‘who’ is responsible for doing it.

Using the lifecycle to guide you

It can sometimes be helpful to consider the topic being examined in the context of the project lifecycle. For example, if you were being asked about the activities relating to budgeting and cost control, you can work your way through the lifecycle from concept to closure and think of all the activities related to money (i.e. estimating for the business case in the concept phase, refining the budget in definition following detailed planning, baselining the budget and gaining approval to start, allocating the budget via the workpackages etc.).

Your experience and place of work

You should use your own project experience but do avoid using language and examples that are too specific and related to work place. Remember, the marker will not be familiar with your particular industry and know nothing about where you work and the technology you are involved with.

Show your workings

Where there are calculations (such as in some earned value question) you must show your working so that the marker can follow what you have done. Even if you get the wrong answer through mis-calculation, you may get some marks if your method or even part of it was correct.


Mike Warren is a professionally qualified project manager with over 20 years experience in the manufacturing, nuclear, offshore and defence sectors and is a full member of the Association for Project Management and an accredited APMP trainer. Mike is a project management consultant with Provek Ltd responsible as lead trainer for the design and delivery of project management solutions to a wide range of clients. He has successfully trained countless delegates form a wide range of backgrounds to APMP level.